Judging Horse Events – Ranch Riding Class

The purpose of the ranch riding class is to show a working horse’s: 

  • versatility
  • attitude
  • movement


Male showing the log portion of ranch pleasure


In this class, the primary considerations are the horse’s quality of movement and overall manners and responsiveness while performing the required maneuvers. The class should allow the horse to show its ability to work at a forward working speed while under the control of the rider. A horse being shown with light contact should be rewarded.


  • No horses younger than 3 years of

Judging Horse Events – Western Pleasure

The western pleasure event is judged on the horse’s ability to be a pleasure to ride, which includes these characteristics:

  • being broke and quiet
  • soft and smooth
  • responsive to the rider’s cues while being on a loose rein or with light contact

Class Procedures

  • Horses are worked both directions of the ring at all three gaits:
    1. Walk
    2. Jog
    3. Lope
  • Riders may be asked to show their horse with a lengthened stride at all three gaits.
  • During change of direction, riders

Judging Horses – Conformation Classes

Conformation is defined as the correctness of bone, musculature, and proportions. This is often referred to as “form to function.” It relates directly to the horse’s ability to perform specific tasks.


  • Overall evaluation: Each horse should be individually examined for conformation defects, soundness, and way of travel at the walk and jog/trot as it is led directly to and away from the judge and at the jog from a direct side angle. The horse must move straight and true.

Judging Horse Events – Dressage

Dressage is an ancient equestrian discipline that highlights movements originally used in warhorses. The first horsemanship book, On Horsemanship, was written by the Greek cavalry general Xenophon and contains many of the same concepts seen in modern-day dressage.

The Levels (Classes)

Dressage classes are broken into levels, with each level having three tests. The tests are progressively more demanding both through the levels and within the level. The levels are:

  • Introductory
  • Training
  • 1st Level
  • 2nd Level
  • 3rd Level
  • 4th

Judging Horse Events – Showmanship at Halter

The “Showmanship at Halter” event is also known as “Fitting and Showing.” In this class, exhibitors are judged by how they present the horse while performing a specific pattern. As the first class of a day of events, it sets the tone for the dayShowmanship pivot.

The ideal performance in this class has:

  • a poised, confident, and neatly attired exhibitor
  • an exhibitor and a horse that quickly and efficiently perform the pattern in the following ways:
    • promptly
    • smoothly
    • precisely


Judging Horse Events – Trail

Horse going through gate for Judging

The trail class is judged on the performance of the horse over obstacles, with emphasis on manners, response to the rider, and quality of movement.

  • Credit will be given to horses that:
    • negotiate the obstacles with style and some degree of speed, provided correctness is not sacrificed
    • show attentiveness to the obstacles
    • display high quality of movement and cadence
  • Horses shall be penalized for:
    • any unnecessary delay while approaching or negotiating the obstacles
    • artificial appearance over obstacles

Class Requirements

  • Horses

Judging Horse Events – Western Horsemanship


The western horsemanship event is judged both on how the horse performs for the rider and the rider’s skill

Horsemanship trot in motion. The judge:

  • evaluates the rider’s position
  • tests the ability of the rider and the horse to perform a prescribed pattern

Rider’s Position

  • The rider should sit in the center of the saddle, forming a straight line from the ear, through the center of the shoulder and hip, touching the back of the heel or through the ankle.
  • The reins should

Judging Horse Events – Hunt Seat Equitation

Huntseat for Judging at a trotThis event evaluates the ability of the hunter rider to perform various maneuvers on his or her horse which provides a base for natural progression to over-fence classes.

  • Tests an amateur or youth’s ability to ride, not solely the performance of the horse.
  • Contestants may work a predetermined pattern and/or perform rail work.
  • Emphasizes the ability to sit correctly, hold the correct riding posture, and control the horse precisely with subtle cues.


Judging is based on performance of patterns, …

Judging Horse Events – Equitation over Fences


The class “Equitation over Fences” is judged primarily on these criteria:

  • how riders are positioned on the horse
  • how effective they are in using their aids while communicating with their mount when completing a course.


All of the following information is provided by the AQHA Official Handbook 2014. Be sure to familiarize yourself with each organization’s rules and regulations before judging this class.

Course Requirements

The course may prove to be more challenging than a typical working hunter course …

Judging Horse Events – Western Riding

Horsemanship pattern for judging

The western riding class is one of flying lead changes. It is a combination of control and skills, mixing techniques from trail, reining, and equitation. This judged event is not timed.

The horse is judged on these criteria:

  • Quality of gaits
  • Lead changes at the lope
  • Response to the rider
  • Manners and disposition

Different associations provide multiple patterns. Pattern II of AQHA is displayed below.

Western Riding Pattern












Lead Changes

  • Must be done in a collected and controlled manner.
  • Change precisely and simultaneously